Poems of Ukraine: a collection

At times of inconceivable tragedy, poetry seems like the only language left. Our heart goes out to the people of Ukraine, whose poetry has for centuries contributed to their national identity, as you will see below.

Who will tell you the news of my death?

We were inspired to bring together poems of and from Ukraine by this New York Times video of poetry on the battlefield, in which Ukrainian soldier Zhenya Perepelitsa reads a Farsi poem by Hamid Mosadegh for his friends in Iran. The English version, translated by Farnaz Fassihi, asks the poignant question above.

That is what art hopes to do: it doesn't shout at the reader "You must change!" Instead, the reader is changed via the act of reading.

Ukrainian-American poet Ilya Kaminsky's celebrated work "We Lived Happily During the War" also proves especially resonant in this historic moment, with its reminder that "we / protested / but not enough, we opposed them but not / enough." Find an analysis of the poem at On Being, and a new interview with Kaminsky that touches on the poem at CNN.

Kaminsky is also one of many poets featured in the recent reading "Voices for Ukraine," which brought together Ukrainian poets, their translators, and their American poet allies in a moving bilingual performance that you can watch in full.

your path is a reinvented chronicle of cities,
the slope leading to the square,
the deep tracks left by hunters,
where fear meets courage.

The Russian occupation over the past decade has spurred many Ukrainian poets to document, process, and spread the word about the situation in their home country through their writing, contributing to a burgeoning arts scene in contemporary Ukraine.

In LitHub's new series on modern Ukrainian poetry, we encounter poems by the young Donetsk-born poet and journalist Iya Kiva, a refugee from her hometown whose mixed Russian, Ukrainian, and Jewish background provides a unique lens on the conflict ongoing since 2014.

The second post in this series highlights poems by famed Ukrainian poet Serhiy Zhadan, based in the creative hub of Kharkiv. Written in response to prior conflicts but just as applicable today, Zhadan's poems explore the realities of life in Ukraine after decades of Soviet occupation.

Photo by Matthew Thompson.

Is poetry possible
At the moment history stirs
Once its steps
Reverberate through every heart?
(The Common)

The 2017 anthology Words for War: New Poems from Ukraine, edited by Oksana Maksymchuk and Max Rosochinsky for Academic Studies Press, collected essential poems of war by a range of contemporary Ukrainian poets. We've drawn together here some of those which can be found online.

The Common
featured six poems on different aspects of war by poets Anastasia Afanasieva, Borys Humenyuk, Aleksandr Kabanov, Kateryna Kalytko, Lyudmyla Khersonska, and Serhiy Zhadan. Another poem by Humenyuk is available at Upworthy, written from the perspective of a teenaged soldier for whom "you and war are one."

Lyuba Yakimchuk's poem "Crow, Wheels" can be read at Words Without Borders. A poem of wartime past, it paints a scene eerily echoic of the present moment: "It was right before Easter / and wooden crosses over the freshly dug graves / put out their paper blossoms."

reached the rivers and borders
reached my clenched heart
your blackened icons
can’t even be cleansed with milk


Los Angeles Review of Books recently shared a set of war poems from Ukraine by Boris Khersonsky, Iya Kiva, and Vasyl Makhno. Informed by the last decade of conflict in Ukraine but taking different stylistic approaches, the poems showcase the wide spectrum of poetry being generated by Ukraine and its diaspora.

A selection of poems from Calvert Journal also highlight the brilliant and diverse work of modern Ukrainian poets. Ella Yevtushenko, Dmytro Lazutkin, Natalka Bilotserkivets, Yulia Musakovska, and Yury Zavadsky are featured, as well as Serhiy Zhadan, who gives us a striking image: "Men that dance the way they quench / steppe-fire with their boots. / Women that hold onto their men in dance / like they don’t want to let them go to war."

Sun submerges, mountains charcoal,
a bird hushes, the fields go mute.
People revel finding rest but
I watch . . . and from my chest I fly
through a darkened grove to Ukraine.

(Asymptote Journal)

Lastly, we'd like to share some poems by the 19th-century revolutionary poet Taras Shevchenko, known as the national poet of Ukraine. Born into a family of serfs, Shevchenko was an early proponent of independence for Ukraine and is considered to have founded the tradition of Ukrainian literature. His poems speak of his deep love for his homeland and of his mixed sorrow and anger at its subjugation by Russia.

Five poems by Shevchenko can be found at Asymptote Journal, including "Will and Testament," in which he pleads "When I die bury me / in the middle of the steppe / of my Ukraine." A wider selection of his work is also available to read at the Shevchenko Museum, while audio readings of his poems, primarily in Ukrainian, can be accessed at the Ukrainian Museum.

We hope this selection of poems from the Ukraine will both shed light on the current crisis and introduce new readers to the astounding scope of poetry by the country's talented writers.